The evolution of plastic surgery

During World War I, thousands of soldiers suffered catastrophic facial injuries. If these soldiers survived their wounds, they were often avoided once they returned home.

Some were forced to sit on brightly painted blue benches so the public knew not to stare at them. Many isolated themselves – sometimes their fiancées broke off their engagements, or their families rejected them – and came to feel that their lives were no longer worth living.

But then an enterprising surgeon came on the scene, determined to repair and even reconstruct the wounded faces of these men: Harold Gillies.

In this episode, we chat with medical historian Lindsey Fitzharris about her new book “The Facemaker: A Visionary Surgeon’s Battle to Mend the Disfigured Soldiers of World War I,” which traces Gillies’ pioneering mission to reconstruct faces. We hear about how he brought together artists, radiographers, dental surgeons and more for new collaborations, their miraculous results, and how Gillies’ efforts led to the birth of modern reconstructive surgery.

Also heard in this week’s episode:

  • From the 1960s to the late 1980s, countless incarcerated people underwent plastic surgery in the hope that improving their appearance would reduce recidivism. Journalist Jad Sleiman tells the bizarre story of the experiment and interviews a famous plastic surgeon to the stars about the flawed program.
  • Flight attendant Dave Repsher led an active life – until a medical helicopter he was in crashed, burning over 90% of his body. Colorado Public Radio’s Ryan Warner tells the story of Repsher’s difficult recovery using cutting-edge techniques.

Comments are closed.